Posted on July 23, 2011 by vicki
Tags: belgium

We have now spent a whole week in Leuven, where we are to stay put for close to a year, so I guess it’s time we wrote something about it.

[We haven’t taken many photos around town yet, but will post some when we do]

Leuven is a university town 33km to the east of Brussels, in the Flanders region of Belgium. There are 91 000 people, of which more than 40 000 are students.

The language of Flanders is Flemish, which is a spoken variant of Dutch. There must also be a lot of French speakers in Leuven, however, as the town has universities in both languages. Everyone seems to speak very good English, and we have signed up to take an intensive Dutch course at the university for the month of August.

The town itself is lovely. It has more than its fair share of historic church buildings and the city hall is a masterpiece. It’s exterior is decorated with 236 statues depicting scenes of crime and punishment, as suggested by Victor Hugo. Sounds a bit morbid but it’s actually quite magnificent. The other day we were wandering through the beguinage, which is a city within a city and used to be an area inhabited by a community of women of faith who chose not to join an order, but still wanted to live a dedicated life. It’s all cobblestone lanes, red brick buildings covered with ivy and now is mostly inhabited by students and professors - lucky things! It’s a UNESCO world heritage site too, and definitely deserving of it.

We have found a nice studio apartment in a fairly quiet area across from the botanic gardens, and 10 mins walk to the centre of town. It’s very handy, and not too close to the party areas. There is one road, the Oude Markt (Old Market), that is designated the ‘Longest Bar in Europe’ as there are bars stretched the full length. I can imagine it getting quite busy during semester. They are all cafes as well though, and it is quite nice to sit on the terrace. We have been watching the Tour de France there in the afternoons this week.

Thursday was a national holiday to celebrate Belgian independence. We watched a little parade with a marching band and soldiers, and some dignitaries were met and escorted into the main cathedral. We looked it up later and it turned out it was Prince Philip and his wife Princess Mathilde!

Last night we went for a while to a free tropical music festival set up in town. There were six stages set up in different squares in the centre and lots of people turned up. Tonight there is a sing-along that we might go to, although only a few of the songs will be in English. Might be interesting though!

Right now I’m heading off to the library to find out if they stock any English books and sign up if they do. This afternoon we will watch the TdF timetrial - go Cadel!